Agency of the Year 2012: Leo Burnett

January 23, 2013  |  Carly Lewis  |  Comments

The big shot gets bigger and better, earning respect from clients and competitors

When Leo Burnett’s Toronto executives Judy John and Dom Caruso launched into their pitch for Toronto Dominion Bank last year, they didn’t talk up TD, its brand or how to support it. Instead, they surprised everyone in the room by talking about themselves. On a first date, this tactic could have been fatal. Inside the Leo Burnett-TD Bank pitch meeting, it struck the right tone.

John, Greenberg, Caruso

TD’s senior vice-president of corporate marketing Chris Stamper and a roomful of the bank’s senior management were won over and Leo Burnett took the business.

“Rarely in an agency pitch process do you have someone come and lead off with, ‘I want to talk to you about how we develop our people and why we have a great team,’” says Stamper. “To me, that’s a spectacular testament.”

The forthright gusto that Stamper calls “spectacular,” president and COO of Leo Burnett Canada Caruso shrugs off as just the way things work around there. “We’re really clear about the kind of agency that we are and what’s important to us and how we look at marketing,” he says. “So when we meet a client for the first time, we share all of that with them.”

Stamper says that the unorthodox way Leo Burnett opened their pitch had a lot to do with TD ultimately awarding them the work. “It’s been an enjoyable honeymoon,” he jokes about their relatively young relationship. “We’re off on a great foot with these guys.”

Leo was on the right foot with a lot of clients this year, having won new business with Earls, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and Yellow Pages Group in addition to TD, and pulling off highly successful campaign work with brands such as IKEA, James Ready Brewing Company and Procter & Gamble. Between 2011 and 2012, the agency added about $11 million in new annual revenue, a figure that undoubtedly factored into their being recognized as Agency of the Year within the Leo Burnett network, a worldwide group comprised of 97 offices in 84 countries.

They also won Campaign of the Year for James Ready, and Pitch of the Year for IKEA. When one considers that 2012 marked the first full year with chief creative officer John alongside Caruso at the helm, the success of their leadership becomes indisputable—these two get things done. (SVP creative, head of art, Lisa Greenberg has been aboard wince 2010.) John says the agency’s successful, energetic and largely experiential campaigns can be explained by the fact that they only pitch accounts they truly want to take on, rather than going after lucrative or high-profile business that might be impressive on the roster, but not necessarily harmonious with the Leo Burnett vision. “It really comes down to how their cultural fit is with ours,” says John, of how the agency evaluates possible partnerships. Caruso agrees. “We don’t pitch everything that moves,” he says. “We really are thoughtful about what we pursue. We’re not into project assignments. We’re into long-term relationships.”

Among those long-lasting business matrimonies is P&G, the global consumer products giant with whom Leo Burnett Toronto has worked for over a decade, handling a number of North American assignments for P&G’s head office. Arguably the most notable of their recent P&G work is a sleek Mr. Clean makeover and social media campaign that modernized the iconic spokesperson’s image and has garnered over 468,000 Facebook fans.

As for that other important benchmark of agency success, awards, Leo Burnett brought home a lot. Like, a whole lot.

Added to the trophy cabinet this year were 30 One Show Awards, five Lions from Cannes, 30 Marketing Awards, six Media Innovation Awards, eight golds, 25 silvers and 32 finalists at the Advertising and Design Club of Canada Directions Awards—in addition to being named Agency of the Year there—and most recently, the Young Guns Design Agency of the Year recognition from a global award show of the same name, which recognizes creative talents under the age of 30. In effectiveness, Leo Burnett won a gold David Ogilvy Award, an Effie for Best Media Idea (for IKEA) and four Cassie’s—one gold, one silver, one bronze and a Globe Effectiveness Award.

Stacks of unopened black boxes containing dozens of awards sit piled in one of Leo Burnett’s Toronto meeting rooms. John quips that no one has had the time to distribute the trophies and hang the plaques around the office, but the mountain of boxes might also be blamed upon the fact that there’s not much space on the walls, the tables, the desks, the shelves or the windowsills that’s not already lined with them.

“We’re ultra competitive,” says John, looking at the pile. “And we’re already looking to top this year next year.”

And while that list of awards goes on (and on), Caruso insists those accolades are not among the things he considers when he goes to work. “What is the thing that we’re trying to do? What is the shift at a macro level that we’re trying to create with that brand?” Those, he says, are the questions that loop through his mind as he approaches new business and comes up with creative solutions.

IKEA moves Montreal

That thinking was evident in the work Leo Burnett did for IKEA, an account won in 2011. In Montreal, Leo Burnett updated its award-winning Moving Day campaign to make life easier for the hundreds of thousands of people on the move by handing out free IKEA-branded cardboard boxes. A GPS-enabled truck let consumers get real-time updates on the truck’s location through IKEA’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

It was a relatively simple program, but one that told consumers IKEA understands the real-life frustrations of having to drag an apartment’s worth of possessions from one place to another. Similarly, it proved that Leo Burnett understands the value of direct-to-consumer communication that goes deeper than traditional advertising. “What is the insight?” says John. “Why do people care? Why would people come? That’s what we spend a lot of time on.”

Caruso calls this style “marketing that goes beyond campaigns.” Hilary Lloyd, country-marketing manager of IKEA Canada, calls it “a wonderful partnership.”

The IKEA brand is trying to reposition itself as a style-forward retail destination, as opposed to the affordable price-point emporium it had become known as. Getting on the wavelength of urban centres helped IKEA remind consumers of their expansive retail presence.

“That was one of these unique, insightful opportunities for IKEA as a brand to step outside what might be expected to be normal,” says Lloyd. “They knocked it out of the park on that one.”

There’s more! To read the full story of Leo Burnett’s amazing year, pick up the latest issue of Marketing by subscribing to either our print magazine or our iPad edition.

To read more about our Marketer of the Year and Media Player of the Year, as well our list of 30 finalists, visit Of The Year 2012

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